The Shark By-Watch project is all about fisher-led collaboration. In order to bring stakeholders together to share knowledge and expertise, Shark By-Watch have arranged a series of events and workshops. Find out about the most recent and up-and-coming publications, events and news here:




Shark By-Watch UK: Research priorities: innovative solutions for reducing by-catch and dead-discards of threatened sharks, skates & rays.

On 1st September 2015, in partnership with the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), Shark By-Watch UK 2 held a workshop on ‘Innovative solutions to reduce by-catch and dead discards of threatened sharks, skates and rays’ to collate stakeholder knowledge on selected key elasmobranch species: common skate, basking shark, porbeagle and spurdog.

Group discussion underscored that more research is needed to fully understand the levels and occurrence of interactions between threatened elasmobranchs and fishing gear, which can lead to by-catch and dead discards. With more information on elasmobranch distribution and incidences of elasmobranch by-catch in UK waters, steps can be taken to reduce unwanted interactions with fisheries. This will protect both fishers (from potential gear damage, time taken to disentangle by- caught species, and un-saleable catch) and the species themselves.

The discussions were condensed into a publication, which you can read here.


Inside One of Nature's Giants

Technical Workshop I

Inside One of Nature's Giants

A feast for scientific research: Shark By-Watch UK hosts unique dissection event.


Background to the event

In June 2015 the Shark By-Watch UK 2 team travelled to the iconic Natural Hisory Musuem in London for a unique event, exploring the awe-inspiring biology of one of the UK’s rarest and most striking sharks: the porbeagle. With support from the Natural History Museum and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), Shark By-Watch orchestrated this fantastic event, which brought together an audience of science, government, fishing industry and NGO representatives to observe a expert-led dissection of two legally landed porbeagle sharks.

Shark By-Watch UK 2 is the second phase of a collaborative UK-wide project, supported by the European Fisheries Fund. The project aims to strengthen knowledge of shark and ray bycatch and discards within the UK’s inshore fisheries, by working with fishing industry, Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authorities, the seafood supply chain, scientists, policy makers and NGOs. Better understanding amongst all sectors will help improve fishing and handling practices, and confront the upcoming challenges posed by the EU-wide ‘discard ban’.

This one-off event united project participants in discovering and discussing the fascinating biology of the porbeagle – a shark vulnerable to being by-caught during targeted fishing activities for other species.

Porbeagle (Lamna nasus) have been listed as vulnerable by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) since 2006 and are categorized as ‘prohibited’, meaning fishers must discard any caught by accident. This dissection was made possible thanks to a special scientific dispensation granted by the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) for the landing and study of a number of by-caught porbeagle from Cornish waters.

Sharing shark insights

The attending participants at the dissection event represented the core sectors engaged with the Shark By-Watch UK project; each individual present had something different to offer to, and learn from, the proceedings.

After attendees arrived and introductions had been made, the Shark By-Watch team commenced the biological sampling of the first, female porbeagle. With assistance from Kirsty McGregor of Defra and Paul Trebilcock of the Cornish Fish Producers Organisation, Stuart Hetherington (Shark By-Watch UK) took a series of under and over body length measurements.

It was then time for Dr. Ralf Britz, researcher at the Natural History Museum, to get stuck into the dissection. As a specialist in the anatomy and taxonomy of sharks Dr. Britz offered expert insight into the inner workings of these remarkable marine predators, examining organs such as the liver, heart and spiral valve.

Advancing research

The enthusiasm among those in the room was evident; due to porbeagle sharks’ current ‘prohibited’ status, this species is rarely sampled and therefore the opportunity to collect new samples created real excitement amongst research scientists present. Dr. Clive Trueman from the National Oceanographic Centre (NOC), Southampton, took samples of the eye lens to enhance his research exploring the isotopic composition of crystalline proteins within the lens layers, in order to create a profile of the individual’s location at different stages of its life. Dr. Les Noble from Aberdeen University took tissue samples for a genetic analysis to unlock the secrets behind porbeagle population diversity. Others samples were taken from the gill arches, jaw, and skull. These samples will help the scientists develop knowledge and understanding of porbeagle sharks in UK waters.

The dissection provided new information, even for experienced conservation representatives: ‘It’s a fantastic opportunity to find out about the range of techniques that can be used to enhance our understanding of these amazing creatures; what we have learnt here today has implications not only for the conservation of porbeagle sharks in the UK, but for various species worldwide.’, commented Joanna Barker, of the Zoological Society of London.

After the biological sampling, a range of science, fishery and NGO participants gave short presentations to the group explaining their progress in porbeagle research, policy development and conservation action. These stimulating talks fired up a group discussion in which many participants emphasised the need for greater scientific research into porbeagle sharks’ life-cycles, underlining the issue of mandatory dead-discarding of this species. Paul Trebilcock, Chief Executive of the Cornish Fish Producers Organisation (CFPO) expressed a deep frustration on behalf of the fishing community, commenting: ‘We are on the front line. We witness first-hand the negative impacts the current legislation is causing as we physically have to throw the back dead sharks back.’

The participants agreed to collaborate and pool their expertise to produce a supported letter to the EU commission, requesting a scientific dispensation to authorise the landing of dead porbeagle by-catch for scientific study, to further enhance understanding of the species and mitigate the wasteful side effects of the ‘prohibited’ status. Such effective, cross-sectoral collaboration highlights the importance of the Shark By-Watch project.

Ali Hood, the Director of Conservation for the Shark Trust expressed her enthusiasm: ‘Events like today’s highlight how important it is to get all these enthusiastic stakeholders into a room to discuss, face-to-face, the real issues and obstacles surrounding shark conservation; by working together we can make a lasting positive impact on shark conservation’

Inspiring on-going collaboration

The event was a triumph, galvanizing a step forward in addressing issues of data paucity in relation to UK shark populations, and confronting the topic of shark by-catch and discards. The project continues to gain support from the fishing industry and there is a mutual agreement that improving understanding of shark populations is key to improving future management.

Technical Workshop

Innovative solutions for reducing by-catch and dead discards of threatened sharks, skates and rays.


As a key part of its current research, Shark By-Watch UK 2 is exploring options for gear modifications that actively reduce levels of elasmobranch by-catch and improve chances of escape and survival. To achieve this objective, fishers have been working with gear technologists from Cefas and Seafish to incorporate innovative technologies such as shark-repellent alloys and electropositive metals (EPMs) into gear modifications. Not only will such modifications reduce the incidences of accidental elasmobranch by-catch and assist stock recovery, they will also reduce the economic cost to the fishery in terms of associated gear damage and down-time periods linked to associated with clearing nets of unwanted catch.

On the 1st of September, Shark By-Watch UK 2 held a technical workshop at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL). Through a series of presentations, debate, and plenary discussion, the workshop unlocks the issue and drivers surrounding elasmobranch by-catch and discarding from the perspective of fishery, policy, NGO and food retailers’ representatives, explored our current knowledge and understanding of a range of elasmobranch species, and envisioned the future for elasmobranch by-catch mitigation. Attendees also had a unique opportunity to witness a ZSL-led dissection of a porbeagle, spurdog and common skate and were given a chance to share knowledge and deepen understanding of elasmobranch morphology and anatomy.

Learn more about this event in our most recent publication: Research priorities: innovative solutions for reducing by-catch and dead-discards of threatened sharks, skates & rays.



09 March 2012 "Cefas 'Shark By-Watch UK' project" launch article, Intrafish (pdf)


Shark, Skate and Ray Conservation Plan, January 2011, Department of Environment Food and Rural Affairs (pdf)
Shark By-Watch UK Interim Report, 'Regional By-Catch Awareness of Sharks and Rays in the southern North Sea', May 2012, Cefas (doc)


Posters and leaflets

Shark By-Watch UK leaflet (pdf)
Shark tag reward poster (pdf)